The road hasn’t helped A’s cause so far

I thought perhaps the A’s fortunes might change once they headed out on the road against some lighter competition. So where do they go from here? They left Minnesota on Wednesday having been swept in three games by the Twins, whose 18-32 record is the worst in the American League. As much as we talk about the A’s terrible offense — and it has been remarkably poor — what has to be disheartening for this team is that the breakdowns have come in all areas at various times. They got a bit of hitting on Monday only to see the bullpen let them down both Monday and Tuesday. They got a subpar starting effort from Tyson Ross on Wednesday, and the rotation in general has not been as air-tight as it was to start the season. So it’s not just the hitting, although I detail how amazingly bad Oakland’s offensive numbers have been in my game story for Thursday’s paper. The A’s will try to change their luck starting Friday against the Royals (21-28).

I’ll throw this question out there: How much impact do you think Yoenis Cespedes will have when he arrives? He’s supposed to come off the DL for Friday’s series opener. Given where the A’s sit in the standings, should we expect him to make that much difference? What about Manny Ramirez? The A’s have dropped five games in the division over the past 10 days and trail Texas by nine games. It’s still early, but that’s a lot of ground to make up, and I don’t know if the addition of those two hitters can help them jump back in the division race. The Angels are really turning it on, so that’s two teams the A’s have to catch up to.

Here’s something else worth pondering. If Ramirez isn’t brought up soon, and if the A’s continue to sink in the standings, you have to question whether it’s even worth bringing him up at all. If Ramirez is an impact hitter and he’s helping Oakland challenge for a postseason spot, by all means he should be in there. But if the A’s fall out of realistic contention, then he’s simply going to take at-bats away from Seth Smith or Jonny Gomes or Collin Cowgill or some combination of players. And if the A’s aren’t contending, then they need to continue finding out if those players are pieces of the puzzle moving forward. We know that Ramirez probably is not after this season …

–Here’s a piece on the Royals posting their first winning record in May in 12 years. In this notebook, you can read about George Brett finding his dog through Twitter, and a former A’s pitcher who may face his old team Sunday.


Some postgame quotes after A’s lose 4-0 to Twins

This eight-game losing streak of the A’s keeps getting uglier. Here’s a few postgame comments from the clubhouse ….

–Manager Bob Melvin, on his team’s overall performance during the streak?

“We continue to play hard, but we have to fight harder. There’s a difference. You’ve gotta give credit to a guy who pitches well, but (Francisco Liriano) was also 0-5 with an 8 or 9 ERA. The night before, we (face) a guy making his second carer start. So you tell me. We just lose a lot of our fight when things don’t go our way. Before this stretch, we were a team that was really scrappy. That’s who we believed we were. These losing streaks can take o a life of their own. They’re not just gonna end. Our spirit just needs to be a little better. Even though we’re playing hard, that’s not enough.”

–Melvin on whether struggling starter Tyson Ross will remain in the rotation?
“You know, we just have to play it out, see how it goes.”

–DH Jonny Gomes on the overall state of the team:

“Thirty teams are gonna have a losing streak this year. The ones that come out of it are the ones that separate themselves, and that has nothing to do with payroll, and it has nothing to do with big market, small market. It’s just the 25 guys inside. … Playing the game the right way definitely starts with (attitude). It definitely starts with applying effort. That being said, you can grab 25 guys and get them on the field and say ‘Try hard.’ This is the big leagues, you gotta execute. You gotta situationally pitch, situationally hit. You gotta be a big leaguer.”


Yoenis Cespedes likely to come off D.L. Friday and rejoin A’s

It feels like we just left the ballpark last night, but the A’s and Twins are back at it for a 12:10 p.m. (CT) game to close out this three-game series. The A’s are looking for some way, any way, to snap this seven-game losing streak. They can at least look forward to Friday, when all indications are outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will be activated from the disabled list. Cespedes was 2 for 4 on Tuesday in his second rehab game for Triple-A Sacramento, and he would have had a third hit on a double, but it was ruled he missed first base. The strained muscle in his left hand seems to be responding well. “He swung the bat well, he drove the ball,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “He feels good.”

Will Cespedes rejoin the A’s on Friday in Kansas City? “I certainly hope so,” Melvin said. “That was kind of the plan. We’ll see.”

The A’s will have to clear a roster spot for Cespedes, and Collin Cowgill is the logical candidate to be sent down. But Cowgill is 7 for 11 over his past three games and he singled in the go-ahead run for the A’s in the seventh last night. As we know, Melvin loves the guy’s energy, particularly with the team going through such a rough period. “He’s been terrific,” Melvin said. “There’s a couple adjustments he made at the plate, and we’ve seen the results lately. He’s the type of player we need here. I don’t know (who will be demoted), but he would be a hard guy to send down.”

–Melvin still has confidence in Brian Fuentes after last night’s blown save, so don’t expect any changes for the ninth inning at this point. “That’s his first blown save (since taking over for Grant Balfour), and he feels worse about it than anybody here,” Melvin said. “One blown save? I think you wanna show confidence in him. He’s our option right now.”

–Brandon Inge gets a planned day off, in order to give him two days of rest with Thursday’s off-day. But we might see him as a pinch hitter.

The lineups:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Cowgill LF, Reddick RF, Gomes DH, Donaldson 3B, Suzuki C, Barton 1B, Crisp CF, Pennington SS; Ross RHP.

Twins – Span CF, Revere RF, Mauer DH, Willingham LF, Morneau 1B, Dozier SS, Casilla 2B, Butera C, Carroll 3B; Liriano LHP.


Coco Crisp drops to eighth in A’s batting order, but where will he settle defensively?

It was no surprise to walk into the A’s clubhouse today and see that Coco Crisp was dropped from second to eighth in the batting order. A .156 average in late May will tend to do that. It’s odd to see his name so far down the lineup card, just because I associate him with being strictly a top-of-the-order hitter.

Tonight’s lineups:
A’s – Weeks 2B, Cowgill LF, Reddick RF, Smith DH, Inge 3B, Ka’aihue 1B, Suzuki C, Crisp CF, Pennington SS; Parker RHP.

Twins – Span CF, Revere RF, Mauer DH, Willingham LF, Morneau 1B, Doumit C, Dozier SS, Plouffe 3B, Carroll 2B; De Vries RHP.

I asked Crisp about dropping so far in the lineup. “It is what it is. It’s well-deserved,” he said. “When you hit in the lower part of the lineup, it’s a little less pressure. But there’s pressure wherever you hit. Right now, I think it’s the best thing. I just want to work my way back up.”

Bob Melvin’s take: “It’s kind of a break. He’ll hit second at some point in time again. It’s just a change of scenery.”

–Yoenis Cespedes is playing left field for the second consecutive day in his rehab with Triple-A Sacramento, though Melvin said there’s still been no decision on whether he moves full-time from center field when he comes off the DL. “I don’t think it’s any secret that Coco feels more comfortable in center,” Melvin said. “We’re just trying to get better. If we feel we’re all-the-way-around defensively better with that mix, it’s something we’ll try.”

Melvin also alluded to opposing base runners who have been challenging Crisp’s arm in left and taking the extra base. “You expect your corner guys to throw some guys out,” Melvin said, adding that arm strength perhaps isn’t as much of an issue in center.

I think that’s an interesting point of discussion. I don’t think he’s saying it’s OK for a center fielder to have a weak arm. I think his point is that a fast base runner can often go from 1st to 3rd on a single to center no matter how strong a center fielder’s arm is. But you don’t want opponents feeling they can go 1st to 3rd on any single down the left-field line. Crisp may have a poor arm in center, but he does have terrific range. And I think, overall, he’d handle the position more smoothly than Cespedes. The A’s originally put Cespedes in center in part because they wanted to make his transition to the majors as seamless as possible, and Cespedes had played center in Cuba. Now, Melvin said he knows Cespedes could handle any outfield spot.

At any rate, Melvin stressed that no decisions have been made yet. But I’d say the smart money goes on an outfield of Cespedes-Crisp-Reddick (left to right) once Cespedes comes off the DL. …


Another quiet postgame scene for A’s

I mentioned before Monday’s game how the A’s seemed more loose and relaxed, like they might bust out from a five-game losing streak. After a tough 5-4 loss to the Twins, it was another solemn clubhouse. This one had to hurt because different areas malfunctioned today. The A’s collected 10 hits, they got two home runs, but they could have done so much more with the opportunities they had. A 1 for 9 performance with runners in scoring position just isn’t going to cut it. And of all areas, it was the bullpen that also let the A’s down.

Jordan Norberto gave up two runs in the sixth in relief of Travis Blackley, allowing the Twins to tie it 3-3. “It just looked like he was getting behind,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said. “Usually he throws a lot of strikes. It didn’t look like he had as good of command with his fastball or changeup. He just got into some bad counts.” For those of you wondering why Blackley wasn’t allowed to pitch past the fifth, he was on a pitch count in his first start. “I figured my leash wouldn’t be past five,” Blackley said.

Then Ryan Cook entered in the eighth and gave up the two runs that gave Minnesota a final lead. In his 22nd appearance, the right-handed set up man finally allowed a runner to cross home plate. What got lost in Cook’s dominance before Monday was that he sometimes pitched himself into jams in those scoreless outings. But he always managed to escape trouble. That wasn’t the case Monday. “His command was a little spotty,” Melvin said. “… (But) it’s been an unbelievable run, it really has.”

–Count Blackley’s impressive five-inning start as a silver lining for the A’s. The lefty has been quite good so far since being claimed off waivers from the Giants. We’ll see whether he winds up getting another start. His next turn would come Saturday at Kansas City, but all indications are Brandon McCarthy will be ready to return from the D.L. and pitch that day. At least Blackley gives the A’s a nice insurance policy if other starters falter or get hurt.

–After six straight losses, the A’s must be wondering what they need to do to get a ‘W.’ Games like today’s, where they get a bit of offense and still can’t make it stand, have to be discouraging. Jarrod Parker takes the hill Tuesday night, looking to get his team back on track …


Manny Ramirez’s ETA is still TBA

Well, the A’s certainly don’t have the look of a team that’s lost five in a row. As a group, they seemed particularly chatty and in good spirits before batting practice today. I’ve got to think that hopping on a plane and getting a change of scenery was a good thing after getting swept by the Yankees. A fresh start was definitely needed. And the A’s couldn’t ask for a better pitching staff for their struggling hitters to face. Minnesota’s 5.47 ERA is the worst in the major leagues. But the Twins are throwing lefty Scott Diamond (great name) today, and he’s 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA.

–Bob Melvin estimated chances at 50-50 that Manny Ramirez joins the A’s on Wednesday, when his 50-game suspension ends. Ramirez has not looked great at the plate for Triple-A Sacramento, so the A’s must decide if it’s better to give him a few more games in the minors to groove his swing, or get him to the big leagues immediately to help this woeful offense. “If guys were swinging the bats consistently across the board, you’d like to see him get some more at-bats, drive some balls,” Melvin said. “But where we are right now, he could be an option for Wednesday.”

With Friday being the potential target date for Yoenis Cespedes to come off the DL, the A’s could just bring Ramirez and Cespedes back on the same day for the series opener at Kansas City. That could be quite the psychological boost for the team. Here’s what we know: If Ramirez plays in Tuesday night’s game in Sacramento, it will be near impossible to get him to Minneapolis in time for Wednesday’s matinee, with first pitch at 12:10 p.m. local time. Melvin wasn’t sure if Ramirez would play for the River Cats on Tuesday or not.

–With Anthony Recker being optioned to clear roster room for Brandon Inge, Josh Donaldson takes over as the backup catcher. Melvin said he’ll use Donaldson just like a true backup and give him an occasional start to spell Kurt Suzuki. He said Donaldson could also see time at third base and first base. “I think the intriguing one might be first base, since we only have left-handed hitting first basemen here right now,” Melvin said. “Rosie (Adam Rosales) can do that as well, but maybe that’s another way to get (Donaldson) at-bats vs. left-handed pitching.”

Considering Donaldson started the past 14 games at third and hit .180, I don’t see a rush to wedge him into the batting order anywhere right now …

The lineups, with Inge making his return at third for Oakland:

A’s – Weeks 2B, Crisp CF, Reddick RF, Gomes DH, Inge 3B, Suzuki C, Ka’aihue 1B, Cowgill LF, Rosales SS; Blackley LHP.

Twins – Span CF, Mastroianni RF, Mauer C, Willingham LF, Morneau 1B, Doumit DH, Dozier SS, Plouffe 3B, Casilla 2B; Diamond LHP.


Cespedes looks ready for rehab, Inge will likely come off DL Monday, still a wait-see on Manny for Wednesday

In for Joe Stiglich …

Yoenis Cespedes took another round of batting practice Sunday before the game and crushed the ball. He hit three out — one ball traveling well over 400 feet — and another off the wall. Then he walked away from the batting cage smiling and accepting high fives. So it appears his hand issue may be a thing of the past, and while the A’ s haven’t yet made it official, Cespedes will likely be playing for Triple-A Sacramento Monday night against Reno on what should be a brief rehab assignment.

Brandon Inge, following a 5-fror-5 night with the RiverCats Saturday night  which included a grand slam (yet another) and 7 RBIs, is flying out with the team later today and almost certainly will be activated from the DL Monday. The A’s will have to make a roster move to accommodate Inge.

It remains to be seen how long it will take Manny Ramirez to join Oakland. After some comments he made about still being in “spring training mode,” the A’s may not bring him to the majors on Wednesday, May 30, his 40th birthday and the day he is eligible to come off the suspended list. Ramirez is just 6-for-25 so far with Sacramento with no extra-base hits. Manager Bob Melvin said earlier in the week he wants to make sure Ramirez is feeling good about his swing and driving the ball before Ramirez is activated.

Here’s a good bet: Cespedes and Ramirez rejoin the club together in Kansas City on Friday, June 1. It makes sense, because the A’s have an off day on Thursday, while the RiverCats have a game scheduled. It gives Cespedes and Manny an extra day of rehab.

Brandon McCarthy, meanwhile, is scheduled to come off the disabled list June 2.

The A’s optioned Graham Godfrey to Sacramento and called up Andrew Carignan.

Today’s lineups:

A’s: 2B Weeks, CF Crisp, RF Reddick, LF Smith, DH Ka’aihue, 3B Donaldson, 1B Barton, C Suzuki, SS Pennington. P Milone

Yankees: SS Jeter, CF Granderson, 1B Teixeira, 3B Rodriguez, 2B Cano, RF Swisher, DH Jones, LF Nix, C Stewart. P Kuroda.







Familiar storyline plays out for A’s in 9-2 loss to Yankees

I didn’t get a chance to blog before the game, so here’s a rundown of Saturday’s news, though some of it is predictable. The A’s lost yet another one to the Yankees, 9-2, and it had all the ingredients of past defeats to New York. There’s always at least one big bopper in the Yanks’ lineup that wears out A’s pitching. This weekend it’s been Mark Teixeira, who homered twice today and has three homers and seven RBIs in the first two games of this series. You think Teixeira salivates when he sees “Oakland” on the schedule? Since the start of last season, Teixeira has six homers and 17 RBIs in 11 games against the A’s.

The A’s could salvage something by winning Sunday, I suppose. But this has the feel of a team moving backward right now. The A’s are a season-high seven games behind first-place Texas. They are due to get a boost from the return of third baseman Brandon Inge (likely Monday), center fielder Yoenis Cespedes (sometime during the upcoming road trip) and designated hitter Manny Ramirez (possibly Wednesday if he’s promoted from the minors). And on a six-game road trip against Minnesota and Kansas City that begins Monday, the A’s will face two teams who began Saturday with a combined record of 32-57. But if the A’s reverse their ways and start playing better, will it matter in the scheme of the A.L. West race? The Rangers, who are 29-18, have to cooperate and go in a slump. The Angels, who are starting to play better, also must go back to their bumbling early-season form.

Then again, this season wasn’t supposed to be about contending, right? It’s supposed to be about building for the future and seeing young players develop. I’m guessing that won’t make many of you feel better if the A’s start to slide in the standings. But you can draw encouragement from a young player like Josh Reddick, who hit his 13th homer Saturday. Pitchers Tommy Milone, Ryan Cook and Jarrod Parker have obviously looked very good, too.

Maybe the A’s will get hot and climb back over .500. If so, we’ll see if that helps keep their hopes alive in the division race. …

–Left-hander Travis Blackley will get the call for Monday’s start against the Twins. He’ll take the place of Graham Godfrey, who was used in relief Saturday. I blogged a few days ago that Blackley might get his shot, and the Australian is pretty jazzed about it. He made his big league debut back in 2004 with the Mariners, but he’s appeared in just 15 major league games since then. His journey has included a shoulder surgery that wiped out his 2005 season, and a stint in the Australian Baseball League. “I’m just thankful I’ve got a job up here at the moment,” said Blackley, who started this season with the Giants before being designated for assignment May 13.

–I’ve got a bit of this in my story for Sunday’s paper, but Cespedes looked good in batting practice and should start a brief minor league rehab assignment in a couple days. Cespedes experimented with a new batting grip today but also used his old one, where he wraps his pinkie around the knob of the bat (the A’s are trying to discourage him from doing that, believing it could lead to more hand injuries). Cespedes said he’s going to gradually incorporate his new grip, which should be easier to do once he receives a new shipment of bats with a modified shape near the knob. “I’m not going to adapt from one second to the other,” he said through interpreter Ariel Prieto. “I’ve been doing it one way for a long time.”

That’s all for now …


Eric Chavez enjoys return to Oakland, but he’s happy to be a Yankee

I did a story on Eric Chavez for the early edition of Saturday’s paper. Many of you won’t receive it, so here’s the full version. …

By Joe Stiglich

A picture of Eric Chavez from his A’s glory days hangs on a wall just outside the visitors’ clubhouse at the Coliseum.

Chavez, now wearing a New York Yankees uniform, couldn’t help but notice it as he walked to the field Friday.

“It’s a little weird,” he admitted.

That picture conjures up memories of Chavez’s happy times in Oakland.

By the time he left the A’s after the 2010 season, the six-time Gold Glove third baseman couldn’t wait to turn the page.

His final four seasons in green and gold were sabotaged by injuries, leaving Chavez feeling burdened that he hadn’t lived up to a six-year $66 million contract.

But the twilight of his career has taken a happy turn. Chavez, 34, made his first return to the Coliseum on Friday, serving as the Yankees’ designated hitter in the opener of a three-game series. He signed a minor league deal with New York before the 2011 season, made the team and has since served as a valuable backup corner infielder/DH.

“It’s been refreshing,” said Chavez, who was injured when the Yankees visited Oakland last season. “I remember early in my career I said I’d never play in New York. Here I am, back-to-back years.”

Chavez remains a West Coast guy at heart, and his parents made the drive up from his native San Diego to watch this series. But he’s blended well into the Yankees clubhouse.

No longer saddled with the biggest contract in A’s history, Chavez is the rare player who went to the Big Apple and escaped the limelight.

Yankees lefty CC Sabathia was happy to greet Chavez last season. The Vallejo native broke into a grin recalling the trips he made to the Coliseum to watch Chavez.

“He probably doesn’t want to hear this, but I was in high school when he first came up,” Sabathia said.

Chavez said he’s watched with interest as the A’s, who traded another cycle of starts this past winter, have held their own with a 22-23 record entering Friday.

“They’re doing a pretty good job with what they’ve got on payroll,” he said. “It’s kind of the same old story here.”

He also hopes the A’s get their long-awaited green light to build a new ballpark.

“You kind of wonder why it’s taken so long,” Chavez said. “But they need a new stadium here bad. They needed one when I was here.”

Chavez ranks sixth on the A’s all-time home run list (230) and seventh on the RBI list (787). He helped them reach the postseason five times, but the farthest they advanced was the American League Championship Series in 2006.

“I kind of felt like we just fell short of what we wanted to accomplish here,” he said. “We were pretty close to accomplishing it. The ’01 team, I felt like, probably had the best opportunity to win.”

That squad beat the Yankees twice in the AL Divisional Series before losing three straight and failing to advance. But Chavez insists that bitter postseason memories aren’t the reason he never thought he’d wear the pinstripes.

“I always respected them as an organization and the way they went about playing the game,” Chavez said.

Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was within earshot when Chavez gave reporters that quote.

“Liar, liar,” Jeter deadpanned.


Yankees (once again) make themselves at home against A’s

And the beat goes on for the A’s against the Yankees. They’ve now lost 28 of their past 35 against New York, and Friday’s 6-3 loss proved once again that if you make defensive mistakes against the Yankees, they’re going to make you pay. Coco Crisp could not make the play on a catchable third-inning liner off the bat of Robinson Cano with two outs. That led to a three-run inning for the Yankees, who sent the A’s to their seventh loss in the past 10 games.

Crisp’s error set a sour tone for the A’s. But defense aside, it’s not as if starting pitcher Tyson Ross was sharp on the mound. He gave up 11 hits in 4 1/3 innings, and getting left-handed hitters out is proving an especially tough task. Lefties came in hitting .389 (28 for 72) against him, compared to a .253 mark for right-handers. Ross said his split-change (basically a change-up that he throws with a split grip) is a key against lefties. “I think they just see the ball a little bit better against me,” Ross said. “The split-change is something I need to keep working on to disrupt their timing and get them off all the hard stuff. I’m just going to keep working and try to mess around with that grip a
little bit and take some more velocity off that.”

–Crisp can be moody with reporters to say the least. But he was very cooperative after the game and fielded all questions about the error. That’s a play Crisp makes 99 percent of the time. He’s allowed to make a defensive mistake now and then. If I’m Bob Melvin, I’m more concerned with Crisp’s bat. His 0 for 4 night dropped his average to .167. Yikes … The strength of the A’s offense was supposed to be the 1-2 punch of Jemile Weeks and Crisp atop the batting order. But Weeks is balancing right on the Mendoza line at .200, and Crisp has yet to locate his stroke. He spoke candidly about that.

“It’s definitely a grind mentally more so than physically,” he said. “I’m out here working, we all are. We’re doing a good job of staying on top of ourselves and pushing and grinding. We’re giving 100 percent before and during the game, which makes it that much harder when you’re not actually succeeding.”

Watch how — or if — Crisp comes around at the plate. That could dictate some of the A’s manuevering at the July 31 trade deadline. A scout told me about a month ago that Crisp would be a great trade target for contending teams, but certainly his value is tied to whether he picks it up at the plate. …

That’s all for now …